“Women Directors Are Not Allowed To Fail”: ‘American Psycho’ Director Mary Harron — Venice Gender Equality Seminar

Andreas Wiseman

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Amid frustration over the small number of women directors in Venice’s Competition (two), the festival held a gender seminar yesterday to reveal stats on gender diversity at the event and in the European industry.

Venice reiterated that around 22-23% of submissions to the festival came from women, and the percentage of projects by female directors at the festival this year is 25%. It revealed a near 50-50 gender split among the Biennale’s most senior staff and among selectors.

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Venice’s dearth of women directors in Competition is to an extent a symptom of a wider problem. Looking just at Italy, Domizia De Rosa of Women In Film, Television & Media Italia revealed that only nine percent of features made in Italy between 2008-2018 were directed by women. Even when female directors did get funding, they were paid, on average, 11% less than male directors.

The seminar also heard from Euro funding body Eurimages. In Europe, 29% of projects funded by the pan-European co-production fund in 2018 were directed by women. Almost 25% of eligible films submitted to the funding body by male directors had budgets of more than $5.5M, compared to only 9% of those submitted by women. Female directors are much more represented in movies with budgets under $3M and among documentaries. Women have a very low participation on animation projects.

Among speakers at the event were The Piano producer Jan Chapman and American Psycho and Alias Grace director Mary Harron, who is on Venice’s Competition jury this year.

Veteran writer-director Harron told the audience, “I’m quite a believer in quotas. If there’s government funding, I don’t see why not. It’s an unjust system. Quotas have worked in the U.S. when it comes to race. We’re trying to overturn a system of inertia that works in favor of the status quo: funders give money to people like themselves, or they are women trying to keep their position in a male-dominated world. In the U.S. there is very little government funding but I’ve been involved with the Directors Guild on a diversity tax credit for women and people of color.”

She continued, “You have to tip the scales when the scales are weighted against you. I was of a generation in the ’90s when there were a lot of women writers and directors. But it has been very hard to sustain a career. You’re not allowed to fail. That is also true for directors of color. There is a great tolerance afforded male directors for bad behavior or when it comes to budgets or for failure of their films.”

The director also discussed battling against stereotypes: “There’s a notion of a ‘young male genius’. There are images of what a director is and how he behaves on set. But this is just the status quo that we need to modify. I’m not going to worry about being older or think this is a young person’s game. Who’s to say what age or color or gender a filmmaker should be?”

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